[Answered] The accident at Morbi is a symptom of a crisis at the heart of India’s urban governance. Discuss the issues facing urban local governance in India. What policy measures can be helpful in making it effective?

Introduction: Contextual introduction.
Body: Write some issues facing urban local governance in India. Also write some measures to make it effective.
Conclusion: Write a way forward.

74th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992 provided constitutional status to local urban bodies. This act added a new part IX-A to the Constitution entitled as ‘The Municipalities’ and a new Twelfth Schedule containing 18 functional items for municipalities. The recent accident at Morbi, Gujarat exposed the issues associated with the urban local governance in India.

Issues facing urban local governance:

  • Poor governance:  In some States, elections to urban local bodies have not been held for years, defeating the goal of decentralised governance. E.g. Tamil Nadu. There is a complete lack of planning and governance at the urban local body level.
  • Lack of management capacity:  Poor urban planning and rapid unregulated growth in cities has caused severe damage to India’s cities. E.g. recent Bangalore flooding.
  • Financial condition:  Collectively, municipal revenue remained stuck at 1% of GDP between 2007-08 and 2017-18. Municipal revenues in South Africa and Brazil are around 6% and 7% respectively.
  • Top-down approach: Urban planning is done at the state government level and municipalities have little or no role in it. Poor planning, poor accountability, and poor governance have led to disasters.
  • Lack of coordination:Poor coordination among centre, state, and various departments at local level lead to poor implementation of urban policies. There is a range of institutions with overlapping functional jurisdiction, leading to confusion and poor coordination.

Measures to make it effective:

  • Greater autonomy: State governments need to begin the process of empowering elected leadership of urban local bodies. Municipalities should be more autonomous in their functioning, so that they can deliver quality service.
  • Encouraging public-private partnership:  at both state and city levels to fund city development.
  • Planning:  The urban local bodies should prioritise the development programmes. Any mega project envisaged needs to be developed taking into account the views of all the stakeholders.
  • Governance reforms:  A minimum level of staffing should be provided in metropolitan areas. Elections to ULBs should not be, generally, delayed beyond six months. The Government may consider the adoption of a common categorisation of urban bodies across the country so as to assist a systematic planning process and devolution of funds.
  • To make changes voters should demand accountability from empowered urban bodies, not state governments with conflicts of interests.

A series of reforms are needed by the Indian government to strengthen local-level governance. To improve urban governance and delivery of services there should be appropriate government as well administrative actions.

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